Having read John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture (2010), I traversed the publishing time continuum & am now perusing Thompson’s 2001 Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States. As you may remember, Thompson claimed that customer loyalty to a particular author was lowest among readers of nonfiction. But as low is clearly not non-existent, even an incorrigible like myself has “repeat business” with a number of authors.
I’ve multiple collections of essays and one book by Anne Fadiman. I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of Gay Talese‘s upcoming memoir after having a whirlwind affair with his A Writer’s Life. And any day now, I swear I will read the copy of Jeremy Lewis’s Grub Street Irregular that I bought so long ago (I just need to first forget his prose style).
In a way, that nonfiction readers have often-read writers is not surprising. After all, they probably have an abiding curiosity in particular events, favorite subjects that they return to more than once, and special areas of (amateur) expertise. Complementing that is the fact that nonfiction writers, especially if they happen to be academics, professionals from a specific trade (e.g. publishing, journalism), or craftsmen of a particular form of writing (e.g. the personal essay, travelogues), tend to write on the same themes book after book (although one hopes not redundantly). So, on the one hand, you have people who crave information on a given set of topics and on the other, people who supply information on those topics in multiple bursts of publications. One group, having found the other at least once and discover it to be agreeable, should shock no one when it subsequently seeks the same match again and again.
It’s almost romantic, really. Don’t these readers and writers remind you of the dedicated, monogamous penguins you saw in March of the Penguins? Except less monogamous — readers pair with more than one author, and writers, if they hope to be writers for long, happily pimp their works out to multiple readers. And less dedicated — freezing to death is not a risk either literary consumers and producers look to take on for the sake of the other.